Think about the following question very carefully: when was the last time you went to Stoke-on-sodding-Trent? More specifically, when was the last time you went to Stoke-on-sodding-Trent WITHOUT STOPPING YOUR CAR?
It’s not hard, is it? The answer is, of course, never. You have never visited Stoke because you’ve listened to the gruesome anecdotes of those sorry souls that did venture to the city – and you really don’t fancy being beaten about the head with a baseball bat before being burned at the stake by a gang of baying recidivist goons. Come to think of it, unless you just so happened to be the unfortunate survivor of a terrible plane crash calamity in the Stoke area – which, given the thick black smoke plumes spewing from burning cars, actually isn’t beyond the realms of possibility – why would anyone stop there? There isn’t even a fucking Wagamama.
Indeed, if a huge meteorite were to obliterate Stoke-on-Trent, wiping it from the face of the planet, it is highly likely no-one would even notice, unless the asteroid were to demolish the Sky satellite – in which case Britain’s already broken society would unravel with grim haste, culminating in rivers of blood sloshing through our burning streets.
Of course, although we would always urge our readers to err on the side of caution, we cannot verify the various claims made about Stoke – but we do know that the road through it does appear to have been designed to usher you through
the city as quickly as possible. The A50 is indeed a thing of rare beauty – a road built with more lanes than it ever needed, possibly because nobody really wants to drive anywhere near Stoke. It’s too big, too wide, too empty. It’s fantastic. You can actually drive to places on it. In cars! That move! All that really means, of course, is that you arrive at the M6 tailbacks sooner than you otherwise might.
But for one blissful hour, screaming down the empty A50, it is all-too easy to slip into a Utopian dream – a dream where you’re actually driving in a proper country, like Germany; a nation that doesn’t spectacularly fuck up its transport planning policy year-on-year – yes, a country that has actually managed the seemingly impossible and constructed a usable network of asphalt tracks.
Then you hit Stoke, immediately hit the central locking, put your foot down and get out of there as fast as possible. At this point, even Wales looks like a more attractive destination. Once you’ve emerged unscathed on the other side and turned towards the North on the M6, you eventually encounter Keele services. After the tense experience of driving within long-throw distance of the Britannia Stadium, you may be tempted to stop for a coffee, or a bite to eat, or food poisoning. Thousands of people a day do indeed stop. impsTALK’s sincere advice is simply to keep driving.
It’s worth pointing out at this point that service stations, by means of glacial osmosis, commonly inherit the latent characteristics of their customers and, more significantly, their geographical context. Hence genteel, super-organic Tebay, visited by jovial middle-class tourists and surrounded by snow-capped mountains and sheep, achieves the kind of graceful serenity one normally associates with an alpine ski resort, Antiques Roadshow or a Friday night in Lincoln.
Keele Services, on the other hand, is a place of desolate desperation, doomed by its proximity to Stoke and its convenient location for football fans making the West coast north-south migration.
And as any service station regular will know, nothing arouses the uglier of human instinct – that being the sudden and irrepressible urge to savagely butcher everyone in sight, especially anyone serving food – than the sight of a legion of Manchester United fans proudly wearing Ronaldo shirts or nefarious Chelsea fans, lamenting their team’s recent, dramatic drop in status to merely the second richest club in the entire universe.
Of course, this isn’t actually Keele’s fault, nor is Keele the only service station where football fans stop. But it is on a route that provides the primary link between two equally repellent Premiership heartlands. And when utterly nauseating, braying fans of Big Clubs stand between you and a £9.99 fifteen-item Big One Breakfast, or the jazz mags in Smiths, you simply can’t help wishing that the ignorant bastards would all just drop dead.
Which, conveniently enough, is pretty much what will happen if they attempt to use the toilets at Keele services. Sanitation in a decimated World War One trench, or even Glastonbury, would surely shame Welcome Break’s token efforts to clear Keele’s accumulated backlog of fossilised shit, solidified urine and matted pubic hair. Faecal-borne e-coli is so entrenched here that lethal bacteria practically greets you with a cheery ‘Yo!’ as you walk into the fetid guff-cloud. Gagging in horror, a retreat to the cafeteria provides precious little respite – the only difference being that you’re charged a huge amount of money to be poisoned instead.
Keele then. Just another desolate, 1960s bomb-site that needs bulldozing as soon as is reasonably practicable .
Have you got a particular favourite service station you’d like to see feature on these pages? Then e-mail impsTALK with ‘YES! I’VE PAID £58.99 FOR A DEEP FILL EGG AND BACON GINSTERS SANDWICH TOO!’ in the subject line, and we’ll either follow it up or ignore you and pretend your e-mail ended up in our spam filter in ‘error’.